Mike Shanahan, owner of the St. Louis Blues during one of their most turbulent and eventful eras in the 1980s and early 90s, has died. He was 78. Mr. Shanahan is remembered by Blues fans and the hockey community as a gregarious, daring and passionate man. He was not afraid to push the envelope when it came to breaking down barriers; both with the league and with the Blues faithful.
Former Blues Owner Mike Shanahan Dies at 78
Rebirth of the Blues
Shanahan purchased the Blues from vending-machine mogul Harry Ornest for $31 million in 1986. It soon became apparent that Shanahan’s management approach would stand in stark contrast to that of Ornest, who is best remembered for saving the team from moving to Saskatoon in 1983. In concert with his new general manager, Ron Caron, he engineered a series of ground-breaking free-agent signings and high-profile trades. The moves overhauled the team. They also firmly established the Blues as a perennial contender in the old Norris Division of the NHL.
It was under the direction of Shanahan that Caron acquired a young but promising right-winger named Brett Hull from the Calgary Flames in 1988. Rolling into the 1990s, the Blues added such high-profile names as Adam Oates, Steve Duchesne, Jeff Brown and (later) Al MacInnis to their roster. Hull, Oates and MacInnis are all Hockey hall-of-famers.
Pushing the Limit
Shanahan wasn’t shy about taking risks and testing the bounds of established norms. In 1990, the Blues signed restricted free-agent defenseman Scott Stevens away from the Washington Capitals, making him the highest-paid blueliner in the league. Since Stevens was an RFA, the Blues were ultimately required to send their next five first-round draft picks to Washington under the terms of the deal. The following summer, the Blues also signed RFA left-winger Brendan Shanahan of the New Jersey Devils to a contract. However, since they could not include a sufficient package of draft picks as compensation to the Devils, an arbitrator decided to award Stevens to New Jersey instead. The decision was a landmark in the history of free agency in the NHL.
Fan-Friendly & Fun
From the perspective of the fan base, Shanahan was the most accessible and popular owner since the original Salomon brothers brought the franchise to the city in 1967. Frequently he could be seen walking the narrow concourse of the cavernous old St. Louis Arena on Oakland Avenue, shaking hands and trading barbs with the fans that congregated there between periods.
“Mr. Shanahan had that incredible personality that touched everyone he ever met,” ex-Blues star forward and current TV studio co-host on Fox Sports Midwest, Bernie Federko, stated in a release from the team. “It was under his ownership that the Blues reconnected with all our great fans.”
It was indeed when Shanahan owned the team that they were one of the brightest lights in the entire league. Despite the disappointment of not winning the Stanley Cup during his tenure, with stars like Hull, Oates, MacInnis and goaltender Curtis Joseph, the Blues were almost always in contention for the Norris Divison title. Hull became a superstar and one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history. His 86 goals in 1990-91 are a Blues team record and rank second only to the Great One himself in the entire history of the NHL. It was during the period that Shanahan owned the team that some of the most thrilling and entertaining Blues hockey was ever on display and the fans came out in droves to share in the fun.
An Enduring Legacy
Although Mike Shanahan sold his stake in the Blues in 1990, he maintained his position as chairman of the team until after the 1994-95 season. In so many ways he was responsible for the indelible impression that the Blues currently have woven into the fabric and community of St. Louis. Today, the Blues under owner Tom Stillman carry on the legacy that was left by Mr. Shanahan and his crew. As original-Blues defenseman and current good-will ambassador Bob Plager said of Mr. Shanahan’s passing, “I am very fortunate to have been a part of the St. Louis Blues since day one. When I look back on all these years of the great players, great owners and great fans, one of them stands out and that’s Mike Shanahan.”